Wednesday, August 31, 2011

At 90, Fashion’s Latest Pop Star

HER spectacles, as round as soup tureens, lend Iris Apfel a startled look. If she seems surprised, she has good reason. Mrs. Apfel, the subject of a string of museum exhibitions, a coffee table book and even a fashion advertising campaign, has long been a magnet to aficionados, those devotees of fashion who dote on her style — a more-is-more mix of haute couture and hippie trimmings that appears at a glance to have been blended in a Cuisinart.

But now, at 90, she seems baffled, and clearly tickled, to find herself on the cusp of pop stardom, an unlikely celebrity whose fame has been constructed almost entirely around her look. “I’m a geriatric starlet, my dear, don’t you know,” she said the other day. Relaxing in her Park Avenue apartment, a visual feast of cabbage rose patterns, paisleys and brocades, she added, “All of a sudden, I’m hot; I’m cool; I have a ‘fan base.’ ”

Straight people, gay people, students of art and social history, tourists and chattering adolescents, “even little kids,” she noted, gravitate to her lectures, blog about her and send her mash notes. And come September, Mrs. Apfel, wearing her signature owl-shaped frames and festooned in faux amber, will exert her exotic fascination on Middle America, peddling bangles, scarves and beads of her own design on the Home Shopping Network.

Mrs. Apfel’s willfully disjunctive look, and the tart wit behind it, will be the subject of a movie as well, a documentary by Albert Maysles, whose film “The Beales of Grey Gardens” turned the reclusive Edie Beale into a household name. Mrs. Apfel’s charisma, a blend of passion, energy and determination, is compelling to Bradley Kaplan, the president of products at Maysles Films. “She’s wonderfully strong-willed, opinionated and single-minded,” Mr. Kaplan said. “She’s not a waffler.”

Her glasses, he added, “have in effect become a metaphor for her eyes, and through them we’ve found another way of looking at our own world.” Mrs. Apfel has an excess as well of what contemporary audiences seem to crave: originality, a soaring free spirit — and the cunning to turn her brand of eccentricity into a saleable commodity.

She expects to have a little help, of course. “I never thought that in my dotage,” she said, in a tone as dry as rice paper, “that I’d have to find an entertainment lawyer.”

She requires no such guidance in matters closer to her heart. Mrs. Apfel is the discerning curator of her own wardrobe. Sorted and stowed in a vast nearby warehouse, that wardrobe incorporates pieces commemorating high points in her life. “She’s a great storyteller,” said Mindy Grossman, the chief executive of HSN. “Every single thing she wears, she remembers a story behind it.”

Some items are mementos from her travels. The dress she has on above, for example, acquired during a shopping trip to China, was inspired, Mrs. Apfel said, by a traditional design of the Miao villagers. She didn’t like the hood, she recalled, so she promptly sheared if off. “That changed the entire look of the dress,” she said with satisfaction.

Of her glasses, she added, “They are standard equipment; they come with me.”

Her designs, including a scarf printed with images of those frames and others inspired by her personal treasures, will be sold on HSN.

Mrs. Apfel’s star turn on the network, to be broadcast on Sept. 23, will not be her first time in front of a camera. In 2007, Bruce Weber invited her to pose for Italian Vogue. “I thought at the time, When will the likes of me ever get a chance to be photographed by the likes of Bruce Weber?” Mrs. Apfel recalled. “If I have to kill myself, I’ll do that shoot.”

Her wardrobe was lavishly documented by the photographer Eric Boman in “Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel,” (Thames & Hudson, 2007). She is a fixture of the society columns. Swathed in longhair fur, she was the improbable star of a 2008 Coach advertising campaign. And now she will join a string of fashion divas — outsize characters like Loulou de la Falaise Klossowski and Patricia Field, who have charmed mainstream audiences on shopping TV.

“When you’re with Iris, you don’t even think of the concept of age,” Ms. Grossman said. Nevertheless, decades of creating interiors and presiding with her husband, Carl Apfel, over Old World Weavers, a textile and design company, have conferred on Mrs. Apfel the weight of authority. “I’m not a designer,” she said. “But I’m a good stylist. I know what to pick.”

IT requires a disciplined eye to pull off her style — an artful clash of furs, couture cashmeres and zingy tribal effects that once prompted The New York Times art critic Roberta Smith to write, “Before multiculturalism was a word, Mrs. Apfel was wearing it.”

Harold Koda, the curator of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who organized Mrs. Apfel’s first museum exhibition in 2006, noted at the time: “To dress this way, there has to be an educated visual sense. I keep thinking, ‘Don’t try this at home.’ ”

Still, her fans may be tempted. When Ms. Grossman met with her for lunch not long ago, “Iris was wearing bangles from her wrist to her elbows,” she recalled. Captivated, the next day Ms. Grossman stacked bangles all the way up both arms, affecting, she said, “my own bohemian style for the day.”

Mrs. Apfel’s look is expected to have a similar pull on viewers. Her public appearances and book signings have drawn followers by the thousands, and turned the comically self-effacing Mrs. Apfel into a heroine of sorts. Straight men, she said, are particularly drawn to her. “They are so much more romantic than women,” she said, and seem to share her conviction that “there is not enough glamour in the world.”

Women view her as a role model: “A lot of them have told me, ‘Now that I’ve met you, I feel so liberated.’ ” Secret eccentrics, they have learned, Mrs. Apfel maintained, “that when you don’t dress like everybody else, you don’t have to think like everybody else.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

From Tinkers

"Hands, teeth, gut, thoughts even, were all simply more or less convenient to human circumstance, as my father was receding from human circumstance, so, too, were all of these particulars, back to some unknowable froth where they might be reassigned to be stars or belt buckles, lunar dust or railroad spikes. Perhaps they already were all of these things and my father's fading was because he realized this: My goodness, I am made from planets and wood, diamonds and orange peels, now and then, here and there; the iron in my blood was once the blade of a Roman plow; peel back my scalp and you will see my cranium covered in the scrimshaw carved by an ancient sailor who never suspected he was whittling at my skull — no, my blood is a Roman plow, my bones are being etched by men with names that mean sea wrestler and ocean rider and the pictures they are making are pictures of northern stars at different seasons, and the man keeping my blood straight as it splits the soil is named Lucian and he will plant wheat, and I cannot concentrate on this apple, this apple, and the only thing common to all of this is that I feel sorrow so deep, it must be love, and they are upset because while they are carving and plowing they are troubled by visions of trying to pick apples from barrels."
Paul Harding

Monday, August 22, 2011

Friday, August 19, 2011

"You were a vampire and baby, I'm the walking dead."

Bad Romance: History’s Ill-Fated Literary Couples

Sylvia Plath and Edward James “Ted” Hughes

Sylvia and Ted met at the issue launch party for St. Botolph’s Review; she was studying on a Fulbright at Cambridge and he was writing poems for the short-lived publication. The pair were married on Bloomsday in 1956, at an Anglican church in Camden. Seven years later, the very unstable Sylvia killed herself, after discovering that Ted was having an affair with Assia Wevill (who also killed herself via oven fumes, in a copycat suicide a few years later). In a poem about Sylvia that was published in the late 1990s, Ted writes, “I did not know/I had made and fitted a door/ Opening downwards into your Daddy’s grave.”


Wednesday, August 17, 2011


"And one by one the nights between our separated cities are joined to the night that unites us."


"But I love your feet
only because they walked
upon the earth and upon
the wind and upon the waters,
until they found me."

First Listen: 'Muppets: The Green Album'

Monday, August 15, 2011

Open like a cavern wide, his feet fell in to spite his soul.

"Awake for ever in a sweet unrest."




E. Jong

Smoke, it is all smoke
in the throat of eternity. . . .
For centuries, the air was full of witches
Whistling up chimneys
on their spiky brooms
cackling or singing more sweetly than Circe,
as they flew over rooftops
blessing & cursing their

We banished & burned them
making them smoke in the throat of god;
we declared ourselves
"The dark age of horrors is past,"
said my mother to me in 1952,
seven years after our people went up in smoke,
leaving a few teeth, a pile of bones.

The smoke curls and beckons.
It is blue & lavender
& green as the undersea world.
It will take us, too.

O let us not go sheepishly
clinging to our nakedness.
But let us go like witches sucked heavenward
by the Goddess' powerful breath
& whistling, whistling, whistling
on our beautiful brooms.

Erica Jong

You gave me the child
that seamed my belly
& stitched up my life.

You gave me: one book of love poems,
five years of peace
& two of pain.

You gave me darkness, light, laughter
& the certain knowledge
that we someday die.

You gave me seven years
during which the cells of my body
died & were reborn.

Now we have died
into the limbo of lost loves,
that wreckage of memories
tarnishing with time,
that litany of losses
which grows longer with the years,
as more of our friends
descend underground
& the list of our loved dead
outstrips the list of the living.

Knowing as we do
our certain doom,
knowing as we do
the rarity of the gifts we gave
& received,
can we redeem
our love from the limbo,
dust it off like a fine sea trunk
found in an attic
& now more valuable
for its age & rarity
than a shining new one?

Probably not.
This page is spattered
with tears that streak the words
lose, losses, limbo.

I stand on a ledge in hell
still howling for our love

I hunger for your sleek laugh

"And I walk hungry, smelling the twilight
Looking for you, for your hot heart,"


Poe - Silence

There are some qualities- some incorporate things,

That have a double life, which thus is made
A type of that twin entity which springs
From matter and light, evinced in solid and shade.
There is a two-fold Silence- sea and shore-
Body and soul. One dwells in lonely places,
Newly with grass o'ergrown; some solemn graces,
Some human memories and tearful lore,
Render him terrorless: his name's "No More."
He is the corporate Silence: dread him not!
No power hath he of evil in himself;
But should some urgent fate (untimely lot!)
Bring thee to meet his shadow (nameless elf,
That haunteth the lone regions where hath trod
No foot of man,) commend thyself to God!


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Saturday, August 6, 2011


No use whistling for Lyonnesse !

Sea-cold, sea-cold it certainly is.
Take a look at the white, high berg on his forehead-

There's where it sunk.
The blue, green,
Gray, indeterminate gilt

Sea of his eyes washing over it
And a round bubble
Popping upward from the mouths of bells

People and cows.
The Lyonians had always thought
Heaven would be something else,

But with the same faces,
The same places...
It was not a shock-

The clear, green, quite breathable atmosphere,
Cold grits underfoot,
And the spidery water-dazzle on field and street.

It never occurred that they had been forgot,
That the big God
Had lazily closed one eye and let them slip

Over the English cliff and under so much history !
They did not see him smile,
Turn, like an animal,

In his cage of ether, his cage of stars.
He'd had so many wars !
The white gape of his mind was the real Tabula Rasa.

-Sylvia Plath

Morning Song, Plath

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I'm no more your mother
Than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind's hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat's. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

"To be thoroughly conversant with a man's heart, is to take our final lesson in the iron-clasped volume of despair."

"You that would judge me, do not judge alone this book or that, come to this hallowed place where my friends' portraits hang and look thereon; Ireland's history in their lineaments trace; think where man's glory most begins and ends and say my glory was I had such friends." -Yeats

"Is there no way out of the mind?" -Plath

"He made me love him without looking at me."

-Currer Bell

"I would always rather be happy than dignified."

-Jane Eyre


This film was sweet and cute yet tinged with a subtle sadness, just enough to keep you grounded while floating away on the incredible chemistry between Ewan and
Mélanie. Also worth noting: In this film I was reminded of Ewan McGregor's ability to convey a huge amount of emotion and communicate deftly and precisely to the camera with slicing intensity exactly what it is he feels. In other words, this movie is good.

Summer reading

Summer reading

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


"When my friend Melot set the trap, I think I knew it. I turned to death full face, as I had turned to love with my whole body. I would let death enter me as you had entered me. You had crept along my blood vessels through the wound, and the blood that circulates returns to the heart. You circulated me, you made me blush like a girl in the hoop of your hands. You were in my arteries and my lymph, you were the colour just under my skin, and if I cut myself, it was you I bled. Red Isolde, alive on my fingers, and always the force of blood pushing you back to my heart."

"Trust me, I'm telling you stories."

Summer skin


"On more than one occasion I have been ready to abandon my whole life for love. To alter everything that makes sense to me and to move into a different world where the only known will be the beloved. Such a sacrifice must be the result of love... or is it that the life itself was already worn out? I had finished with that life, perhaps, and could not admit it, being stubborn or afraid, or perhaps did not known it, habit being a great binder. I think it is often so that those most in need of change choose to fall in love and then throw up their hands and blame it all on fate. But it is not fate, at least, not if fate is something outside of us; it is a choice made in secret after nights of longing.
.. I may be cynical when I say that very rarely is the beloved more than a shaping spirit for the lover's dreams... To be a muse may be enough. The pain is when the dreams change, as they do, as they must. Suddenly the enchanted city fades and you are left alone again in the windy desert. As for your beloved, she didn't understand you.
The truth is, you never understood yourself."


"It is a strange

world, a sad world, a world full of miseries, and woes, and
troubles. And yet when King Laugh come, he make them
all dance to the tune he play. Bleeding hearts, and dry
bones of the churchyard, and tears that burn as they fall, all
dance together to the music that he make with that
smileless mouth of him.
Ah, we men and women
are like ropes drawn tight with strain that pull us different
ways. Then tears come, and like the rain on the ropes,
they brace us up, until perhaps the strain become too
great, and we break. But King Laugh he come like the
sunshine, and he ease off the strain again, and we bear to
go on with our labor, what it may be."

Buck and Dawn get married